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Friday, 14 August 2015

Genetically Altering Plants Can Reduce Their Water Needs in Drier Climates

For regions facing increased drought or diminished groundwater resources, improving efficiency by which crops use water is a critical priority.
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Now researchers have found that this can be achieved by genetically altering plants' stomata, the tiny openings on the leaf surface through which carbon dioxide is absorbed and water evaporates. "We now have genetic tools to pre-adapt crops to future, drier climates. The goal here is to maintain or improve productivity with less water," said Dr. Peter Franks, lead author of the New Phytologist study. 


How Plants Establish a Mutual Relationship With Good Microbes, Compared to Bad Ones’

How Plants Establish a Mutual Relationship With Good Microbes, Compared to Bad Ones’
In normal plants, a defense hormone that keeps bad bacteria out from the surface as well as inside the plant's roots and actively recruits the good ones has been detected by researchers. These findings could lead to increased plant productivity. The study also suggests that plants without this hormone would find it very hard to survive in the wild.


Lead researcher Jeffery Dangl from Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in the US said, "With a better understanding of how plants assemble and maintain complex microbial communities, it might be possible to manipulate those communities to increase plant productivity. What we really wanted to understand was how the plant establishes a mutualistic relationship with microbes that it likes, compared to microbes that it does not like." 

The researcher team found that the natural level of the defense hormone salicylic acid shapes the microbial community at the root both by keeping certain families out and by letting others in. Dangl said, "This level of salicylic acid gates potential bad guys out, but it is also required as positive signal to attract bacteria. It is not just defense." 

For the study, the researcher team introduced 38 strains of bacteria that they had isolated from roots grown in the wild soil into a sterile clay. The researchers showed that when they grew plants in that synthetic soil, the presence of salicylic acid determined which microbes colonized the roots. Dangl said, "Our survey in the wild soil is essentially an ecology experiment. Now we can build complex communities that recapitulate what we found in those experiments, but are entirely manipulable." 

The findings are published in the Science Express

Source: IANS


Beware Of Your Currency Notes, They May Carry Micro-Organisms That Spread Diseases

Beware Of Your Currency Notes, They May Carry Micro-Organisms That Spread Diseases
Traces of DNA footprints of at least 78-disease causing micro-organisms were found on Rs 10, Rs 20 and Rs 100 notes, according to a government study in India.Currency notes as samples were collected for the study from street vendors, grocery shops and local market places of South Delhi by scientists from Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.

The study was to see how currency notes often spread disease. "To be sure, the study only looked at finding traces of DNA. So we know what kind of organisms could have been on these notes. We do not know whether these organisms have the ability to infect people with the disease because we did not study that aspect. But what we can certainly say is that there is a possibility of diseases spreading through this manner because the microbes do actually travel through currency notes", said S Ramachandran, who led a group of five students for the study. Mostly fungi was found in their samples but also presence of bacteria which can cause tuberculosis, dysentery and ulcers were found.

Studies like these have been conducted earlier which looked at identifying organisms on furniture, clothes, soaps and even computers using a technology called Ribosomal RNA typing.

"We have used a different technology, high-throughput DNA sequencing, for our study. This is a relatively new technology and much more powerful. Using this technology, we can extract lots of information even from a very small amount of DNA material. The other benefit of this method is that even those microbes which cannot be cultured can be detected," added Ramachandran.

Using the DNA sequencing technology, the organisms were identified following which the results were put through a bio-informatics algorithm, where they found some antibiotic resistance genes. They said that when a person is infected by that gene, then they would develop resistance to certain antibiotics.

  They want to take the study further and assess the diseases that spread from currency notes, as they found the results to be an eye-opener.  

Compounds in Cannabis Extract May Lead To An Anti-Obesity Pill

A new drug to treat obesity will be available in five years. A combination of extracts taken from cannabis and vitamin A shows promise as a weight loss pill, said researchers.The results of our study show, for the first time, that particular compounds in cannabis and vitamin A can work together to reduce the deposit of lipids (fats). This opens up exciting opportunities to potentially treat obesity without invasive surgery," said Dr Yann Gibert, head of Metabolic Genetic Diseases Research Laboratory, Deakin University, Australia.

Cannabis has an active compound called Endocannabinoid system that plays a role in appetite regulation and fat formation. 

Vitamin A has an active compound called Retinoic Acid Pathway that reduces the deposit of fat. 

To test the effect of the Endocannabinoid system and Retinoic Acid Pathway, researchers used zebrafish and human cells. 

"The complementary actions of the Endocannabinoid system and Retinoic Acid Pathway in reducing fat deposits have the potential to treat obesity in a safer and more effective way than if they were used independently," said Gibert. 

"This approach only focuses on fat, and avoids effects on brain, which has been a concern in previous research involving cannabis," he added.



Monday, 10 August 2015

New Insights into Premature Aging and DNA Damage

Scientists suggest that a molecule called interferon may play a role in premature aging. They found that DNA damage that is normally associated with aging stimulates interferon signaling, which in turn may cause features of premature aging.

As far back in history as one can look, the human mind has been preoccupied with the pursuit of eternal life, immortality, longevity and youth. While such pursuits have for the most part been futile, science has revealed a lot when it comes to the natural process of aging. With the advances made in modern medicine and the overall quality of life, the human lifespan has been greatly increased, but this has brought with it the problem of aging. Length of life is not worth much if it is severely compromised by the degenerative effects of aging and this is a problem that scientists have been struggling to tackle. A study at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that researchers may have just made a breakthrough. 

The Effects of Aging Explained - Damage to DNA causes Aging

Damage to DNA has been an unavoidable part of the aging process that occurs over time, and as we age the body's ability to repair such damage also begins to diminish, resulting in a cumulative effect. This effect is seen as aging. Scientists postulated that over time, the extent of damage reaches a point where cells enter an irreversible and dormant state known as senescence. This condition of cellular senescence is said to cause the symptoms that we associate with aging such as weakened bones, wrinkling of the skin with a loss of elasticity and reduced efficiency in organ functioning. 

Progeria is a condition in which the individual experiences premature aging and this is also linked with DNA damage. It results from genetic mutations in the specific genes that normally determine the repair of damaged DNA. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have now established a molecular link between the phenomena of DNA damage and cellular senescence, and progeria or premature aging.

Findings of the Study and Implications

Double stranded DNA breaks ramp up interferon signaling. 

Once the key players in the process are identified, scientists will be able to establish specific therapeutic targets so as to counter the ill effects of premature aging and they may even hold the key to delaying the natural effects of the aging process. According to the paper published in 'Cell Reports', the researchers examined the chemical messenger interferon, which is a naturally produced molecule in the body. It is produced as a response to the onslaught of invading pathogens. The team at Penn found that interferon signaling ramps up in response to breaks in double stranded DNA and they found that this signaling is what prompts the cells to enter senescence. 

The researchers were initially uncertain about the role of interferon signaling and whether it was DNA damage in itself or some other unknown aspect of cell destruction that led to interferon induction. The experiment finally gave researchers an insight into the effect of DNA damage on interferon signaling. They found that interferon protein IFNβ levels rose along with levels of a reporter molecule tied to interferon production when DNA damage with double-stranded breaks in DNA were created using an experimental technique. Levels of IFNβ were also found to be markedly higher in older patients with progerias and also in mice with a progeria-like condition. 

Blocking the interferon signaling pathways reduced signs of aging. 

The researchers experimented with a model of progeria in mice, wherein they inactivated the interferon signaling pathways. What this revealed could turn out to be a game changer. By inactivating these pathways, they found that the lives of the mice were extended. In addition, the mice were more fertile, there was less greying of the hair and they were also a lot more robust, large and healthy, as compared to mice with active interferon pathways. The significance of these findings became apparent to the researches as they recognized that some of the effects of DNA damage could possibly be managed through blocking interferon signaling. 

The researchers found that IFNβ blocking drugs could help to lower the number of cells entering senescence, which also made it apparent that senescence was triggered by interferon signaling. 

The researchers did studies in mice which lacked the Terc gene. The Terc gene is necessary for DNA repair and stem cell function and therefore mice lacking this gene show premature aging. The researchers found that mice that lacked the Terc gene and interferon receptors showed less signs of aging as compared to those who lacked only the Terc gene. 

Significance of the Findings

These findings are significant because they help us develop a better understanding of the aging process and the effects of cell damage and degeneration. While the study at present does not offer much by way of preventing the effects of aging, it could usher in novel therapies to prevent some of the effects of accelerated aging and eventually it may even throw light on solutions to mitigate some of the effects of normal aging.
Source:Desk News 

Protein Molecule That Accumulates in Blood Over the Years Linked to Cognitive Decline

Aging is associated with a progressive decline in cognitive function, and slower regeneration of message-relaying neurons in the brain. A protein molecule, called B2M, that accumulates in the blood with age may be linked to cognitive decline, revealed scientists who mooted hopes of a memory-restoring treatment. They observed that the protein was found in higher concentrations in the blood and cerebral spinal fluid of aging humans. Also in mice, inhibiting B2M improved learning and memory in laboratory experiments.


Study co-author Saul Villeda of the University of California San Francisco said, "We are very excited about the findings because it indicates that there are two ways to potentially reverse age-related cognitive impairments. One is to introduce pro-youthful blood factors and the other is to therapeutically target pro-aging factors like B2M." 

The authors said, "Aging remains the most dominant risk factor for dementia-related neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease. As such, it is imperative to gain mechanistic insight into what drives aging. In the brain in order to counteract vulnerability to cognitive dysfunction. B2M injections impaired the learning ability, memory, and neuron growth of lab mice. But the effect was reversible by stopping the injections." 

Villeda said, "In another experiment, the scientists eliminated B2M genetically in mice, and observed that the old mice lacking B2M did not develop memory loss. This all implied the molecule could be targeted to potentially restore cognitive ability in the elderly." 

The research is published in the Nature Medicine.

Source: AFP

Rajan Zed, Hindu Statesman Asks Pope Francis To Clarify His Stand On Yoga

Rajan Zed, Hindu Statesman Asks Pope Francis To Clarify His Stand On Yoga
President of Universal Society of Hinduism, Rajan Zed, is urging His Holiness Pope Francis to clarify his and Vatican's official stand on yoga. In a statement in Nevada (USA) he said that Roman Catholic priests, bishops and other officials kept on making varying statements about yoga, taking different stands. But many Roman Catholics world over continued to practice yoga.

The only statement regarding yoga attributed to Pope Francis on The Holy See website, titled as "Hardened hearts" under "Morning meditation in the Chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae" and dated January nine, 2015, goes as—Thus, here, we can ask: "Who teaches us how to love? Who frees us from this hardness?". The Pope's answer: "the Holy Spirit alone" can do so. "You can take a thousand courses in catechesis, a thousand courses in spirituality, a thousand courses in yoga, Zen and all these things. But all of this will never be able to give you the freedom of the Son".

Rajan Zed indicated that as responsible religious leaders, we should not be critical of the spiritual practices of others. Zed further said that although introduced and nourished by Hinduism, yoga was a world heritage and liberation powerhouse to be utilized by all. Yoga, referred as "a living fossil" whose traces went back to around 2,000 BCE to Indus Valley civilization, was for everybody to share and benefit from.

Rajan Zed noted that yoga was a mental and physical discipline by means of which the human-soul (jivatman) united with universal-soul (parmatman). For Patanjali, author of the basic text, the /Yoga Sutra/, yoga was a methodical effort to attain perfection, through the control of the different elements of human nature, physical and psychical.

According to US National Institutes of Health, yoga may help one to feel more relaxed, be more flexible, improve posture, breathe deeply, and get rid of stress. According to an estimate, about 21 million Americans, including many celebrities, now practice yoga. Yoga was the repository of something basic in the human soul and psyche, Zed added. 


Most chronic pain patients use alternative therapies, but many don't tell their doctors

- More than half of chronic pain patients in a managed care setting reported using chiropractic care or acupuncture or both, but many of these patients didn't discuss this care with their primary care providers. These study results, published today in the American Journal of Managed Care, suggest that better care coordination is needed among patients and physicians.
Researchers surveyed more than 6,000 patients in Oregon and Washington who were Kaiser Permanente members from 2009 - 2011 and had three or more outpatient visits for chronic pain within 18 months. They found that 58 percent of these patients had used chiropractic care or acupuncture or both.
The majority of patients shared information about these alternative therapies with their primary care provider, however a good portion (35 percent of patients who had acupuncture only, and 42 percent of patients who had chiropractic care only) didn't talk to their providers about this care. Almost all of these patients said they would be happy to share this information if their provider asked.
"Our study confirms that most of our patients with chronic pain are seeking complementary treatments to supplement the care we provide in the primary care setting," said Charles Elder, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and affiliate investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. "The problem is that too often, doctors don't ask about this treatment, and patients don't volunteer the information."
Chronic pain affects approximately 100 million Americans each year and costs nearly $600 billion, according to report from the Institute of Medicine.
Dr. Elder, who is also the physician lead for Kaiser Permanente's complementary and alternative medicine program, added, "We want our patients to get better, so we need to ask them about the alternative and complementary approaches they are using. If we know what's working and what's not working, we can do a better job advising patients, and we may be able to recommend an approach they haven't tried."
To find out how patients accessed this care researchers examined the medical records of patients who received acupuncture or chiropractic care in 2011. The majority of patients (66 percent) who received acupuncture accessed the services through their health plan, using a clinician referral or self-referral benefit. About half (45 percent) of patients who received chiropractic care accessed that care through their health plan. The remainder of patients went outside the health plan to access these services, or used a combination of health plan and outside resources to access the services.
The majority of the patients in the study (71 percent) were women, and the mean age was 61. Common complaints included back pain, joint pain, arthritis, extremity, neck and muscle pain, and headache.
Patients completed the survey online or by mail. It included 17 questions about the type of pain patients experienced, and their use of acupuncture, chiropractic care, and other alternative and complementary therapies. This survey was administered as part of a study called RELIEF, which is comparing outcomes among chronic pain patients who receive chiropractic care and acupuncture, and those who don't.

Survey reveals best practices that lead to high patient ratings of hospital care

Simple, low-tech practices, such as proactive rounds by nurses and hospital leadership, make a difference, Johns Hopkins study finds.
Fast Facts:
  • Study reveals simple things hospitals can do to improve a patient's experience, including ongoing rounds by nurses and hospital leadership.
  • Study findings outline the following core practices that high-ranking hospitals employ: a devotion to consistency, personal and focused interactions with patients, and a culture that demands involvement of all levels of caregivers and services.
Based on responses to questionnaires and letters sent to CEOs and medical personnel from a nationwide sample of 53 hospitals, Johns Hopkins investigators have identified a handful of best practices they say are most likely to give patients a positive hospital experience, a sense of satisfaction and the feeling they come first.
Hospitals nationwide are competing, in part, to promote the idea of patient-centered care, a concept that includes everything from safer and timelier care to patient satisfaction with the level of attention and amenities. The new survey, the researchers say, was designed to uncover how high-performing hospitals get that way.
In a summary of its survey findings, published in the August issue of the journal Medical Care, the Johns Hopkins team concluded that medical staff members and leaders at hospitals that already ranked high on patient experiences of care shared a devotion to consistency, personal and focused interactions with patients, and a culture that demands involvement of all levels of caregivers and services.
"It's not just about getting the physicians involved, or the nurses," says lead study author Hanan Aboumatar, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a member of the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality. "Everyone involved at the hospital, all the way up to top leadership, has to place a high priority on the needs of patients and their families."
For the survey, Aboumatar and her colleagues first identified 169 U.S. hospitals with a "top ranking" or a "most improved" designation based on their scores on the December 2012 Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey. The assessment is a national survey designed to measure patient experiences and satisfaction.
The Johns Hopkins team then sent letters to the CEOs of these hospitals, requesting participation in the study, and later anonymous questionnaires to key informants, including medical, nursing and administrative leaders, at the 53 hospitals that agreed to participate. The team received responses from 138 key informants from 52 of the 53 hospitals.
Aboumatar says the participating institutions -- in terms of size, teaching status and geographic location -- were a fair representation of the national hospital scene. In fact, 33 percent of the hospitals surveyed had 500 or more beds, 31 percent had 201 to 499 beds and 37 percent had less than 200 beds. Close to one-half of those surveyed were teaching hospitals, and the majority of the hospitals in the survey were located in the Midwest (37 percent).
At the organizational level, the results of the survey showed 77 percent reported that a commitment to the patient and family was a part of their culture and a key reason for their high performance.
"It may seem a simple thing," Aboumatar notes. "But if leaders and staff members don't prioritize this commitment and link it to the greater mission, it becomes easier to lose sight of it in the hectic pace of hospital care."
At the operations level, responsiveness was a key element, Aboumatar says. A particularly common approach was the practice of proactive nurse rounds, reported in 83 percent of the surveyed hospitals. Proactive rounds have nurses visit patients individually at periodic intervals and ask a set of specific questions related to patients' care. Similarly, leader rounds -- during which hospital leaders, including executives, visit patients and staff members to check on concerns or issues -- were also common in the top hospitals (some 62 percent).
Hospitals that were rated highly by their patients also promoted specific activities or behaviors, such as always making eye contact with patients or sitting at patients' bedsides, rather than standing or hovering over them.

"Importantly, we found that similar practices were occurring across the spectrum of the hospitals in our study," Aboumatar says. "It did not matter how many beds they had or whether they were an academic hospital. Also, these didn't need any high-tech resources. All that is required is commitment and a set of principles that any hospital can apply."

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